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Jaggi on Gandhi, Pacifism & Black Bloc Recruitment Poster (2000 via 2007)

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Jaggi on Gandhi, Pacifism & Black Bloc Recruitment Poster (2000 via 2007)

reposted from

Subject: Re: First Black Bloc Recruiting Poster Ready for the Street!

i wish i checked out the "gandhi is dead" poster earlier, but i guess it's better to respond later than never ...

[for those who haven't seen it, it's at:]


it shows a gandhi-figure getting run over by a dc cop's motorbike. the caption reads "gandhi is dead, because he didn't strike back! support your local bl@ck bloc!"

i'm writing to seriously object to the poster. it's not that i'm offended... it's just that the poster is misguided and stupid. not to mention that the gandhi figure is a stereotype of an indian male -- specifically, a caricature of cowardly-looking gandhi -- which i find racist (so ya, i am offended!). the caricature reminds me of something howard stern would develop a skit around.

here's something for comparison: could you imagine if instead of gandhi, anarchists went around washington, philadelphia, los angeles or wherever putting up posters that read "martin luther king is dead ... because he didn't strike back! support your local bl@ck bloc!" accompanied by a cowardly-looking mlk caricature? when you choose which battles to pick, is that really an important one to start? you can disagree with king and civil rights pacifists of the 50s and 60s on many fronts, but they were our comrades, and they were for the most part courageous. cheney, goodman and schwerner, and hundreds of others, including mlk, are not dead because they "didn't strike back", but because of racism and white supremacy.

mlk or gandhi are not the problem, but the people who mystify them today. pardon the history lesson, but gandhi is not dead "because he didn't strike back", but because he was murdered by fascist hindus. the political descendants of those same fascists are alive-and-well in today's india.

[some contemporary background: the indian fascists hold power federally, and in several states in india. their multifold organizations -- grouped together as the sangh parivar -- are responsible for a litany of abuses (including assaults, torture, bomb attacks, rape and murder) against muslims, christians, communists, feminists and all sorts of radicals and progressives. their front organizations operate in the u$a, canaduh and britain, raising millions and spreading propaganda. many radical desi-s (people of south asian ancestry in the west) are active in organizing against them in those countries. these radical desi-s are also open to a lot of the anti-authoritarian ideas within the anarchist milieu.]

just a word about where i'm coming from, before anyone assumes anything: i'm an anarchist and anti-authoritarian, and a desi (punjabi-indian, born in toronto). i'm also NOT a pacifist (as it so happens, some of the most authoritarian people i've come across in activist circles are pacifists). i have nothing against "direct actions becoming less passive and more direct", and have actively organized along those lines. i've publicly defended black blocs in various forums. moreover, i recently returned from india, where based on my encounters with activists there (especially friends in faridabad), and much critical reading, i'm hoping to write up an article called "de-mystifying gandhi".

when i talk about "de-mystifying gandhi", i mean taking apart the way his myth is used by middle-class, pacifist liberals in the west (including many parts of the non-violent direct action movement). it means critiquing gandhi's stifling and irrational moralism, his views on caste, his hypocrisy, his authoritarianism, and yes, his pacifism. de-mystifying gandhi also means contextualizing gandhi, acknowledging that while he was in many ways an important and courageous figure (like mlk), he did not embody the anti-imperialist, freedom movement in india as many uncritical westerners assume. (bhagat singh and uddham singh, who were hung by the british, are two lesser-known freedom-fighters that come to mind, much like king's very "un-civil" counterparts in the black panther party and elsewhere.)

"de-mystifying gandhi" includes a critique of his elitist collaboration, along with nehru and the congress, with the british. i used to argue with my indian friends that gandhi perhaps prolonged "independence" with his collaborationist non-violence campaigns (if that's what 1947, ninety years after the 1857 uprising, could really be called). it's the same argument that many historians have made. in some moments of bluster, i'd say that any self-respecting freedom fighter should have sent lord mountbatten home in a box, instead of letting him salute the lowering of the union jack.

"de-mystifying gandhi" also means remembering his famous quote (paraphrased): "if i have to choose between being violent and being a coward, i will choose to be violent". no better critique of unthinking pacifism than that. now i don't expect one poster to present a well-developed critique of gandhi or pacifism, but what the "gandhi is dead" poster does do is tap into simplistic, regressive feelings towards gandhi and pacifism in general. the poster reflects a frat-boy mentality and sense of humor, which ties into a lot of the stereotypes of who actually participates in black blocs (young, white, middle class males). that caricature is overblown, but the poster sure does play into it (unless of course, the poster IS meant to recruit young white men with a similar sense of humor). i'm all for a concerted, fun, biting, uncompromising, intelligent critique of pacifists and pacifism, including the whole gandhi myth. i also have nothing against being offensive, if you're offending the right people. but while potentially offending pacifists with "gandhi is dead", you're also offending me (an anarchist who's not white), and potentially lots of other sympathetic non-pacifist radicals and progressives (the vast majority of whom come from communities of colour in this world).

again, for some context, how would a "martin luther king is dead" poster go over, even among radical, non-pacifist blacks? strategically speaking, that kind of poster is a non-starter (even if it's not objectionable in-and-of-itself), if we're seriously interested in building the anarchist movement, and not revel in self-imposed, mainly white, ghettos.

when i was in washington for the anti-imf/wb demos, some protesters smugly carried portraits of gandhi above their heads. the portrait was accompanied by a quote that i can't exactly remember, but it was a gandhian platitude about not following his personality, but his deeds. i approached the pacifists, and confronted them on the portraits, and their whole mystification of gandhi (not to mention the irony of them holding the portraits while the quote exhorts the opposite kind of behavior). the protesters and their demeanor reminded me of those "free tibet" types who uncritically carry portraits of "his holiness" the dalai lama.

needless to say, i found the gandhi worshippers to be liberal morons. more importantly, i find the "gandhi is dead" poster to be the other side of the same proverbial coin - white and macho, and equally liberal and moronic.

on a related note, what's with the black blocs being "the marines of the movement"?! that phrase was presumably meant as a compliment, but for fuck's sake, let's be a little more self-critical of appropriating the marines, not to mention talking about "recruiting posters" that are meant to attract "A Few Good Anarchists". pardon me while i puke ...

in solidarity,

-- jaggi singh

Posted by moose on Mon, 2007-10-08 16:44.

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Thanks for sharing your contextualized analysis...

Thanks for reposting this. My only issue is that I don't think he needed to make comparisons to Martin Luther King in order to solidify his point. It stands alone, very articulate and well thought through without inferring that, somehow, Martin Luther King's visage, utilized in the exact same manner, would have been the subject of more outcry. His choice to allude to Martin Luther King's pacifism and the equally virulent and useless liberal mythology surrounding him and his work lessened the impact of your argument for me. It made otherwise really powerful and insightful words seem a little petulant - "They wouldn't have done that to HIS image..." Which isn't as strong a stance and really wasn't necessary given the really astute pieces of information he brought into play. It brings to mind the eternal infighting and not very above board struggles between communities of colour, all impacted by racism, all struggling with white liberals, all attempting to get radical white activists to find ways to ally with our struggles from a more respectful, less entitled and arrogant place. Still somehow, we end up struggling with each other, so often attempting to ascertain, who has truly been hit hardest, treated the worst, made to suffer the most humiliation. I can't even count the amount of times I've encountered this kind of divisive reasoning in the ranks of people of colour. But, chin up. The struggle continues and clearly it's been brought right to my door. So I need to find ways to make myself of more use. This is me saying mostly, thanks for this reposting. I'm going to go back and read the pieces about Ghandi and those who were considered more radical than he was and the knowledge the writer shared about the fascist nature of India's government. Much appreciation.


"in some moments of bluster,

"in some moments of bluster, i'd say that any self-respecting freedom fighter should have sent lord mountbatten home in a box, instead of letting him salute the lowering of the union jack."

And  yeah, it would be just that, bluster. Because as badly and slowly as India's independence went, it could have gone way worse. Like as in a war, worse.

Which is why we don't need people waking up and saying to themselves, "boy, is shit ever fucked up. What this situation clearly needs is more fucked up shit. That always solves the world's problems!"

Not a bad point...

John. Certainly real listening conversations about systemic alternatives to current problems are put to an end when violence is on the rise. And historically, those who shut down dissent and avenues for redress can expect little else but violent and/or more extreme forms of reaction and response. 

We'll see how it goes. These are certainly desperate, starving and bombarded times for billions of people on the globe. I personally am not looking forward to more of it.

Gandhi is dead

what a blast from the past i wonder what the point is?  But since it's here, i have no comment regarding the actual poster in question, except that is clearly shows a frustration with pacifists.

Jaggi's response, from ten years ago, promotes two generally misunderstood concepts.  MLK and Gandhi, and their present day followers, are not our friends or comrades.  In fact, it is a common mistake to think that middle class reformists have the same goal as radicals or revolutionaries but simply use different methods to achieve the same goal.  The fact is they have a very different objective: maintaining the status quo with legal-constitutional reformism.  Revolutionaries seek to destroy the system.

It is this fundamental difference in goals that affects strategies and tactics.  And this is why reformists frequently denounce militants while collaborating with police.

The second misconception is that by finding obscure quotes from Gandhi or MLK we show how they're more pragmatic and really comrades in the struggle.  Both these fools were opportunists and would tell people whatever they though expedient.  The principle of opportunism is that there is no principle.

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